Director Hansal Mehta wants every Indian to see his film Shahid as he says it is a story about us as a society. He wants the audience to take a fresh look at their lives, get provoked and have debates about the issues plaguing the society today.
Recently in town to promote his film, Mehta spoke at length about Shahid Azmi's life, the challenges he faced while retelling the story and why Raj Kumar was his only choice for the film. Excerpts:
How did the idea come about?: It reflected my mood at that time. I was very disturbed by the things happening around me. There was discrimination at every step. As a filmmaker, I wanted to highlight these issues through a film. While I felt the concern, I did not have a story. Shahid's unfortunate death, gave me that story. I have been obsessed with the common man. The power to bring about the change is with us. We just sit in our comfortable shells and complain. Shahid's was an inspiring story. It was a story of someone who went against the tide, went way beyond his comfort level. This sparked of my interest in his story.
Developing the story: Initially, I didn't meet the family, my writer Sameer did. We met them three months after the death as I didn't want to be insensitive. I knew we had to tread carefully. So, I told Sameer to do his homework and come back to me as sometimes while you are struck by an idea, it might not make for a good film. He came back with enough material. After that, I met his mother. They were very welcoming. They saw that our intentions were not driven only by commerce. They really supported us.
Casting the actors: Raj was my only choice. I spoke to other people as well but they wanted the film to be masalified. I didn't want to make a compromise even though I was promised a bigger budget. I wanted an actor I trusted fully. I had seen Love Sex and Dhoka and knew Raj was a good actor. His eyes, his silence, manner, body language, everything was apt for the role. I felt if Shahid was alive, he would be like Raj.
Relating a real life story: It is tricky as the person is not alive to tell his story. His story needs to conveyed with a certain amount of sensitivity, with love. We narrated Shahid's story with love. I tried to think like Shahid, I tried to put myself in his shoes and I told everyone to do that too.
Working with the family: They all are really nice people. I especially liked his elder brother Arif. He still feels he lost his son. He doesn't even enter Shahid's office. He can't come to terms with the loss. I empathise with him. His mother has treated us like her own family. One day, she just called Raj Kumar when we were shooting. Raj asked me to come along as he felt she was upset about something. She had cold drinks and snacks ready for us. "Yadien tazaa karni thi aaj," she told us. Later, we learnt, it was the day he was killed.
Life changing experience: It has been a life-changing experience for me. Life has taught me not to bother about hurdles. I don't find any obstacle too big. My problems and life missions are too small as compared to Shahid's.
Memories of Bangalore: I love Bangalore and always wanted to settle down here. I remember going to MTR for coffee and dosas. I have fond memories of this city.